DALLAS – The family of a Dallas woman killed while on the phone with a 911 operator has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and police department.
Deanna Cook was strangled to death while on the line with an emergency operator; her final breath was recorded on tape, as was her screaming her ex-husband's name, Delvecchio Patrick.
A man's voice is also heard on the recording, saying he's going to kill her.
“The refusal of the police to assist in helping the family through their grieving process has called for us to undertake our own investigation," said Aubrey "Nick" Pittman, an attorney representing the family of the slain woman.
The lawsuit alleges the city’s 911 system and the Dallas officers sent to Cook’s home to investigate failed to do their jobs.
Officers knocked on the door and left when there was no answer, under the impression they were being sent to a domestic disturbance call.
Cook’s body was found inside the home by her family two days later.
On Wednesday, the 32-year-old’s mother, daughters and siblings held a news conference to announce the lawsuit’s filing. They said the police department has failed to properly train its 911 call-takers how to deal with domestic violence calls.
Cook's family said the officers who responded to the call stopped at a suspected burglary and at a 7-Eleven to buy water before answering the call at Cook’s home. Those officers have provided statements to the department's Internal Affairs Division.
The lawsuit also alleges that emergency calls in southern Dallas are handled differently than those in the city’s northern sector.
“It seems like a culture of arrogance; like a culture of the police or the police department determining whose lives are valued in determining the worth of other’s lives,” said Valecia Battle, Cook’s sister. “I personally don’t know if policy changes will have long-lasting effects if the culture remains the same."
Pittman said the lawsuit goes beyond money. He said the family filed it to change that culture within the department.
“The Dallas Police Department would not have had a delay of 50 minutes to an affluent North Dallas neighborhood,” Pittman said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is surprised by that allegation, especially after he spent Saturday night at the 911 call center to see how it operates.
“Well, that's not true,” Rawlings said. “Sitting there on the phones Saturday night, I realized that those phones and that computer system is area blind, and we treat everybody the same."
The Dallas Police Department has changed its policy, added more officers to the 911 call center, and changed supervisors to deal with this issue. In addition to the city and the department, the lawsuit was also filed against the former supervisor and employees in the call center and the responding officers.
Police Chief David Brown has said in past interviews that Cook's desperate call for help was mishandled by the 911 operator, but not by the officers in the field. He does not believe that the response has anything to do with the call originating from South Dallas.
He said this was a human error. The operator, Angelia Herod-Graham, has since been fired.
Cook’s mother cried through much of Wednesday’s news conference and is still unable to speak publicly about her daughter’s death.